Cohn & Wolfe Elixir has been established to target what the firm has branded 'healthsumers', a group defined as those 'well informed and active in healthcare decision-making'.
The division is headed by C&W director Caroline Page, who reports to C&W Healthcare MD Angie Wiles.
Page said client demand was behind the decision to launch the division: 'The move was brought about by market need - this is a growing area. As an agency Cohn & Wolfe has always been known for its pharmaceutical and consumer work - it made sense to bring it all under one brand.'
Page added that the division will seek to cover a range of healthcare work, including consumer PR for pharmaceutical and FMCG brands.
'DTC work will include some pharmaceutical brands in terms of condition awareness campaigns. The division can cover a very broad spectrum, for example FMCG brands, such as tea, with health properties,' she said.
Last week C&W was criticised in The Guardian over its involvement in 'disease awareness' campaigns for client GlaxoSmithKline.
The paper accused the agency's New York healthcare team of creating patient groups to raise awareness of disorders treated by GSK drugs.
C&W healthcare director Fiona McMillan acknowledged the rise of 'disease awareness' campaigns, but reiterated: 'We have always been advocates of responsible communication to patients. We would only conduct these campaigns within the relevant codes of conduct, and the US campaign was within regulations there.'
Page said the majority of staff for the division would be drawn from its ethical and consumer healthcare divisions, with C&W aiming to assign permanent staff to Elixir in the near future.